International day of acceptance

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On Jan. 20, 2011, the annual International Day of Acceptance took place to celebrate life with a disability and unify those of all abilities.

“No other day for disability awareness attempts to include all people with disabilities AND others in our lives,” Stevie Hopkins, co-founder of the event and the 3eLove company, said. “Cross-ability awareness is very important…the only way we can achieve any goal, especially social goals, is to do it together. Social barriers are everyone’s barriers, not just one group of people.”

Contrary to usual awareness events, there were no carnivals, rallies or keynote speakers to ostentatiously push forward their goals. Instead, the success of the day was put into the hands of those who really mattered: everyone. Anyone who has a disability or is a family member, friend, co-worker, teacher or personal assistant of someone who is disabled was given the mission to spread the word.

Over 50,000 people were invited in a Facebook invitation, countless of whom promised to turn their profile picture to the 3eLove’s “wheelchair-heart” symbol, wear the company’s products and/or simply tell others about the cause.

According to their website, the 3E Love company is a “disability awareness clothing line and marketing company” established in 2007 by a physically disabled sister-brother team, Annie and Stevie Hopkins. When Annie Hopkins created the “wheelchair-heart” symbol in 2004 and had it tattooed on her shoulder, neither founder knew their lives would soon change because of it.

As a result of the positive responses and encouragement to grow this idea, they formed the company. Their mission was “embrace living life no matter the obstacles, and by doing so, educate society and empower those with disabilities to love life.”

Sorrowfully, Annie Hopkins passed away in January 2009 from complications following a simple medical procedure. After informing family and friends about her passing and how she will be remembered, Stevie Hopkins was bombarded with hundreds of heartfelt responses encouraging him to carry on their work.

“So I did! From there it had evolved in meaning and it grows every day. My understanding of what it means and what it could be changes through my experiences daily,” Hopkins said.

Therefore, the International Day of Acceptance was set on Jan. 20 to honor the late Annie Hopkins, an inspiring social advocate who set everything into motion.

Keeping to Annie Hopkins’ original goals- “Embrace diversity. Educate your community. Empower each other. Love life.”- the company and its mission have thrived and grown all over the world. Those disabled and able alike have bought “wheelchair-heart” T-shirts, sweatshirts, bags, silly bands, temporary tattoos, jewelry and more in an effort to celebrate life regardless of your disability. Or maybe even as a result of it.

Yvonne Munoz, graduate student at California Baptist University, celebrated the day by wearing her 3eLove T-shirt. “Honestly I did not expect a reaction: positive or negative. But the reactions have been extremely positive,” Munoz said. “For example, while wearing the shirt people I didn’t know approached me and shared stories with me about family members and/or friends in wheelchairs and wanted to know where they could buy a shirt.”

“People don’t have to feel uncomfortable around someone that is ‘different’ than them,” Munoz said. “When they are, they are missing out on some pretty incredible friendships.”

The truth is that Jan. 20 is only once a year, but the message should be carried out all year long.

For more information on the founders, how you can spread the word and merchandise available for purchase, check out www.threeellc.com.

“In order for the positive externalities of our company to flourish, our fans and customers must also realize that the message and movement is ongoing,” Stevie Hopkins said. “The International Day of Acceptance is a by-product of 3E!”

Pesonal Note: As a person with a physical disability, this journalist can attest to the fact that a little education and awareness makes all the difference in people’s lives. Some of the most amazing things have happened to me not in spite of my disability, but because of it. The kindness, acceptance and overall loving attitude of people in my life have been astounding. Annie and Stevie Hopkins’ point that there is really not much difference between the “us” and the “them” has and will continue to change people’s lives.

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